Northwest NEWS

January 25, 1999


Guest Editorial

Hepatitis B and the safety of Hepatitis B vaccine

from the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health

   Due to a recent ABC "20/20" television show on hepatitis B vaccine, the public may have questions or concerns about hepatitis B and the safety of hepatitis B vaccine.

   Hepatitis B is a serious blood-borne infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B is one of several types of hepatitis, including hepatitis A and hepatitis C, that cause inflammation or injury of the liver.

   In the United States, more than one million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B, which means they have this infection for a lifetime. An estimated 200,000 are newly infected with hepatitis B each year. About 1/3 of chronic hepatitis B infections in the U.S. come from infected infants and children. More than 4,000 people die every year in the U.S. from liver disease caused by hepatitis B. including liver cancer.

   Hepatitis B can cause abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and yellowing of the eyes or skin. However, persons infected with hepatitis B are not always aware that they have this disease because they may not have any symptoms or feel ill. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood or body fluids. Hepatitis B is 100 times easier to spread than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Hepatitis B can be spread from a mother to her baby during the birth process; through unprotected sexual intercourse; and by sharing of intravenous drug equipment.

   Hepatitis B can also be spread by sharing items contaminated with the blood of an infected person, including nail clippers, razors, toothbrushes, tattooing needles and dye, and acupuncture needles.

   However, there is an effective vaccine to prevent the infection. A series of three shots given over six months will protect most people from getting hepatitis B and from the related liver diseases that can develop in persons infected with this virus. There is absolutely no risk of developing hepatitis B disease from the vaccine.

   Hepatitis B vaccine has been safely given to more than 20 million people in the U.S. and more than 500 million people worldwide. The most common side effects of the vaccine are a slight fever and localized pain where the shot is given. Serious side effects following vaccination with hepatitis B are rare. There is no confirmed scientific evidence that hepatitis B vaccine causes chronic illness, including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or autoimmune disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying the rare reports of illness related to hepatitis B vaccine and continually monitor vaccine safety.

   The U.S. Public Health Service, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization recommend that all children, and any adult who potentially may have exposure to hepatitis B infection, be vaccinated.

   For information, call CDC's Information Hotline at 1-800-232-2522, or visit their Internet website: